This article replies to the recent piece by Maggie Mellon concerning the promise made to Scotland’s children in relation to their care when looked after by the state. I speak not for the entity The Promise Scotland nor the Scottish Government, both of whom the article holds accountable. However, I am a (former) social worker, foster carer, occasional Social Work lecturer, and freelance educator. I am also a member of the Oversight Board responsible for reporting on the progress Scotland makes as it relates to keeping that promise. Importantly, I have experience of care, having been ‘looked after’ in a number of settings. I too am a parent. I feel this permits me to respond in the hope my words will serve to widen perspectives and deepen understanding.
On coming across the article, I was struck by the use of a headline (An Empty Promise) that is all too easy to use and does a disservice to all those people, groups, and organisations currently keeping, or working towards keeping, the promise as per the Care Review recommendations.
Many would baulk at being accused of making an empty promise or that their efforts to embody the principles of the promise are somehow part of something that has failed. Indeed, many of those involved in working towards keeping the promise have experience of care. They are certainly not thinking about failure. The headline comes across as a fait accompli. It echoes the claim within the text that the failure to deliver on the promise was inevitable. It’s just wrong and enlightens the reader to none of the nuance involved with a task such as the wholesale change of a multi-faceted system of care.
The Promise Scotland is a 10-year change programme intended to be kept by 2030. I would hope this fact alone demonstrates that the accusation of failure is a tad premature. There are three stages to this change programme, with progress reported on yearly. Currently, we are in the first period of change (plan 21-24). It is true that progress has not been made in every area and – as pointed out in the STV article – some areas have seen the situation worsen.
We must – as Fiona McFarlane from The Promise Scotland team stated clearly during the programme – say where and when progress has or has not been achieved. The first report due in the coming months will give a fuller account of just where Scotland is on that journey. However, there has been progress. Many organisations, groups, and individuals are demonstrating that change is both possible and sustainable. In recent days, as the two-year mark approaches, there has been a constant flow of declarations from across the range of organisations responsible for keeping the promise (with some noticeable exceptions). This should give qualified hope if nothing else.
That said, there is cause for concern. The article rightly points out that parents and carers have seen those all-important contacts between children and their families cancelled during the pandemic. I have heard similar. This is far from acceptable. There are other worrying revelations. The continuing imprisoning of young people, resource-led decision-making, young people having support terminated too soon and more. All of which The Promise Scotland agrees is unacceptable and must change if the promise is to be kept in full. It must be stated: The Promise Scotland cannot force change. It monitors and supports change and comments on both the positive and negative news relating to the change process. Let’s not get things mixed up.
The Government must change, and fund change elsewhere. Organisations and institutions that for a long time have not provided good enough care must change, and any new organisation must be set up to meet the needs of those they support, not the system they are a part of. In saying all that, just because there are areas of concern does not negate the progress already made, and progress has been made.
Maggie writes about families being on the ‘outside.’ I posit that is sometimes a good place to be (not that families shouldn’t be on the inside too). It is a place from which to exert pressure, to highlight what is not going well, to give an ‘outsider’ perspective. For example, great work is being done by such people as Jamie Kinlochan, a campaigner who working to evidence the truth as it is happening on the ground. Not only has he raised a number of pertinent points, he also suggests solutions. Why? Because some of the solutions are quite simple and should be in place by now. Karen Goodwin from the investigative organisation The Ferret is another using her position to show what is going on. Other media outlets have publicised concerns, giving voice to those not directly involved with Government or The Promise Scotland. ‘Outside’ voices are necessary.
Recently, I was a member of the Who Cares Scotland? national representative board. Together, we influenced the Care Review and lobbied Government for immediate action. This resulted in concrete changes included in the programme of Government. Most noticeably, free dental care for care experienced people up to the age of twenty-six and the further provision of a care experienced bursary for education. These were successes gained whilst ‘on the outside’. Both the Government and The Promise Scotland need those outside perspectives. Certainly, the Government and those Charities the article mentions should be held accountable, feet to the fire and all that. Again, The Promise Scotland and the Oversight Board (not one and the same thing) will not shy away from stating facts about both success and failure to keep the promise. That is certainly the job of the Oversight Board.
The Promise Oversight Board is critical to ensuring that the Promise made to Scotland’s children and families is kept. It will hold Scotland to account.
Other voices matter
If any group feels they are not being listened to (as is the case with the organisation PAR), then a hand should be extended to offer them space both to voice their concerns and listen to their ideas. I hope The Promise Scotland and the Scottish Government will make themselves available to hear those voices. I believe bringing people together would show there is much common ground between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’, that concerns would be shared and ideas of what is needed very similar. I said as much at the recent board meeting.
I understand the pessimism/frustration and feel it myself at times. In saying that, maybe we need to shout a bit louder about the good stuff going on. I hold that for every story of someone not receiving the right support there are many more who are. I also urge people to allow time for the substantial changes to take place. That is not to say we shouldn’t highlight where things are going wrong or could easily be put right. Some things should be happening now, no excuses. However, we can accept that such a shift in so many places will take time (hence the ten-year plan). Covid did have an impact, but that reason for mistakes being made is now untenable. 2022 will be a massive year for those responsible to make and continue to make the necessary changes. It is up to everyone responsible to do the right thing. I for one still have that qualified hope in my heart.
Featured image: Mother-Child care via flickr on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0
Further reading: Janice McGhee and Lorraine Waterhouse, #KeepThe Promise – or childcare without parents, Sceptical Scot .